Dear Lifehacker, I moved to Australia from California last year, and I'm wondering how to protect our identity and credit here (beyond changing passwords, shredding documents, and so on). In California and many other states, you can elect to lock down your credit file, meaning that nobody can get credit in your name without a PIN, regardless of how much information they have. Is there anything like this available in Australia? We have credit monitoring services there of course, but they are basically a profit machine for the credit card companies, and are a retroactive tool at best. Thanks, California Dreaming
Dear California Dreaming,
The very short answer to your question is: no, there isn't. The slightly longer answer begins with recognising that the legal structure and situation is entirely different here than in the US. For one thing, state-based laws are much less relevant — the vast majority of relevant legislation concerning credit and consumer protection is enacted at a national level. While there are occasional exceptions, these have become less common. For instance, the introduction of the Competition And Consumer Act earlier this year saw consumer-related law harmonised across the country, and included a provision banning the sending of unsolicited credit cards to prospective customers. (That's a much more common scenario in the US, as I understand it.)
So who can actually get hold of a credit report? According to a handy summary from the Privacy Commissioner, only credit providers (which would include banks, credit unions, and retailers who offer goods on credit) can apply to access that information to assess the creditworthiness of an applicant, and to do so they need permission from the person applying for credit. (Debt collectors can also access limited credit report information, but only after being engaged to pursue those debts.)
You can also apply to see your own credit report, which might prove informative if you've repeatedly been refused credit. There are two main providers of credit reporting information: Veda Advantage and Dun & Bradstreet. (There's also a third Tasmanian-only agency,Tasmanian Collection Service, which is the only striking example of a state-based distinction I encountered while researching this question, but it doesn't seem to have any special legislative status, just a sufficient local market.)
Veda offers three ways to access your credit file: a $46.95 annual subscription service which notifies you by email whenever your file changes, an express delivery option of just the report for $36.95, or a free copy which can be dispatched within 10 working days. Dun & Bradstreet offers a $30 express delivery option, or the same free-in-10-working days deal (it's a legislative requirement that reports can be accessed without charge).
The list of information which Veda requires before it will issue the report includes your full name, date of birth, driver's licence number, copy of a driver's licence or passport, current addresses, five years of address history, a recent bill to your current address, current employer and the name of the organisation to which you last applied for credit. If it isn't satisfied with any of those documents, Veda will contact you and seek additional information. D&B has essentially the same requirements. So while there's no PIN attached, it's not going to be a particularly easy scenario to fake.
Do those restrictions mean that no-one can get hold of your credit report by providing that same personal information? No, it doesn't — but someone who already has all those details your has enough data to wreak plenty of havoc on your life without ever needing to go near a credit-reporting agency. And because of the restrictions on who can access that credit data, they're more likely to try and exploit that information in some other way.
Keeping a close eye on your credit history is a good idea, but I'd worry that focusing on having a PIN "protecting" access to it might lead some people to a false sense of security. Guarding personal data, shredding documents you don't need, and keeping a careful eye on bank and credit card statements remain the most important steps.
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